Seasoned photographers discuss their pro tips on how to plan for and shoot that fun, chaotic, once-a-year New Year’s Eve party.
For many, New Year’s Eve is the highlight of the year. After so many trials and tribulations, you finally have a chance to rejoice and celebrate all of your accomplishments with loved ones. As an event photographer, it’s also a chance to pick up an exciting, adventurous gig.
NYE parties can get dynamic and over-the-top, and though that makes for a thrilling assignment, you should also be prepared and come with a strategy. How do you capture those lively moments without disrupting the event’s natural energy? What should you absolutely bring?
We reached out to a few seasoned photographers for their insight on how to seamlessly cruise through the big night.
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What to Ask Event Planners Prior to the Night
Even though there are specific quirks to a NYE party, it ultimately can be likened to any concert or wedding you may have previously photographed. A best practice, in general, is to contact the event organizers before the start of the night.
Mik Milman, an event photographer, said that you should ask whether there will be a specific series of events or any speeches. Sarah Hendry, one half of the photo duo The Hendrys, said that you need to check the lighting situation so you come prepared with your own equipment. She asks her clients if “there’s going to be any lighting involved and also what color it’s going to be.”
On the other hand, if the event planners aren’t going to have lighting, that’s something you need to know so you can bring your own equipment, if necessary.
“Ask the event organizer for their shot list,” Jermaine Amado, a portrait and event photographer said, “This way, you have a list of their expectations.”
Get Ready for Crowds
With free-flowing champagne and nonstop dance music, NYE parties can get rowdy. After all, this is a celebration! So, you should be prepared for crowds dancing, jumping, and maneuvering in all directions.
“Drinks do fly and the dance floor can get wet,” Darren Hendry said. “So, you want to be very careful with things like that.”
“Not everyone’s comfortable navigating crowds, but it is an important skill,” Milman said. He recommends that photographers should sidestep, meaning that instead of “squaring off when you’re trying to pass people, you go at an angle.”
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The photographer said that in order to protect his camera, he elevates it above everyone so it doesn’t hit any of the party-goers and possibly get damaged.
“Avoid leaving your equipment in heavy foot-traffic areas, especially if there’s alcohol involved,” Amado suggested. “Always set your boundaries and make sure to follow your to-do list. Afterward, then you can take people’s photo requests.”
Bring the Right Equipment and Keep It Light
In addition to learning how to navigate a crowd, a good tip for making your job seamless and easy is keeping the amount of equipment on your person to a minimum. Milman explains that he tends to only bring one camera with him.
He prefers a 50 or 33 millimeter lens. Ultimately, he says, it’s an issue of personal preference.
“The basic equipment needed is a digital camera that can handle high ISO settings, preferably a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera,” Kari Bjorn, an event photographer, shared. “You’ll also need a wide-angle zoom or prime lens with an f-stop of 2.8 or lower, and a hot shoe mount flash.”
He added that he makes sure to pack a rechargeable flash battery pack and a belt with “tactical pouches for additional camera batteries, memory cards, AA batteries, a backup flash, and breath mints.”
You Need a Flash
Milman said that it’s “very likely” you will need flash. He said that there could be specific events in which a flash isn’t necessary and it’s doable to go without it if you have a camera with a wide aperture lens that doesn’t need additional lighting.
Though, he further explains, that ideally you’d be able to bounce your flash, you can use a “flash bracket to get your flash off axis with the lens to give it more depth.”
Bring Your Own Lights
To improve the quality of your photos and take your content in more creative directions, consider bringing in your own light system. Bjorn suggests bringing an “off-camera flash system and sturdy light stands so that you can fire multiple lights simultaneously for more dramatic light.”
Darren Hendry stacks lights on different sides of the room for color and texture.
Capture the Energy
The art of photographing a party relies on letting the energy and events unfold and acting as an observer. While, with portraiture, you can curate and design the setting to fit your liking, party photography relies on you letting the subjects take the lead.
“You don’t want to disrupt things too much and disrupt the flow,” Sarah Hendry said. “So, we just capture things as they unfold, basically.” She added that since there’s “a lot happening at the moment,” you want to be in a “good position” to capture all the “magic happening.”
Bjorn said that he aims to “overshoot an event” then spends “a little more time culling and editing.” Content surrounding a New Year’s Eve party is about preserving these memories of what makes a specific night so special.
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“It is also wise to not pack up as soon as the event ends,” Bjorn said. “Hang out for a little bit to capture the end—people leaving, hugs and kisses, and maybe even the empty room afterward.”
By casting a wide net for shots, you’ll be able to present a more holistic view of the night that goes beyond the typical cliches of people clinking drinks and relishing in all of the confetti.
Stepping into a New Year’s Eve party can be intimidating and overwhelming. As long as you come in with a game plan and remember to pack the proper equipment, you’ll do a great job in documenting people being authentic, and in their element, as they ring in the new year.
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